About a month ago, in my American Literature class, my teacher read us a sentence from Philip Roth’s The Human Stain: “Ninety-eight in New England was a summer of exquisite warmth and sunshine, in baseball a summer of mythical battle between a home-run god who was white and a home-run god who was brown.” My teacher asked us to identify which baseball players Roth was referring to. Everyone in the room was silent. One person shouted out Barry Bonds, but that was it. After a couple of minutes I was able to come up with the answer. Roth was referring to the (now tainted) home-run records by baseball players Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. I was shocked that most of my peers knew so little about America’s pastime.
“Baseball is boring”, one friend said when asked why he doesn’t follow baseball. “It’s so long”, another chimes in. “Nothing happens, it takes so long between pitches”, a third remarks. These people may have a point. As our attention spans decrease, we can only focus on something for so long. Our generation can get impatient. The game itself is long; usually taking three hours. Waiting for Clayton Kershaw to throw Strike 3 alone can take a couple of minutes.
While in 2013 many baseball stars are unknown, in the early to mid 20th century, they were the big-time athletes. Long before Kobe and LeBron, there was Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the most popular athletes in a time where there was no other team sporting event.
And yet, I love it. I love the traditions that the game has. I love having peanuts and cracker jack. I love the rivalries between certain teams. I love cheering my heart out during the World Series. I love sitting in the hot July sun befriending the fans next to me and our shared passion for baseball.
In addition, Baseball has changed along with American society. Jackie Robinson’s debut catalyzed the start of the Civil Rights Movement. Many Presidents have contributed something to the game, whether it be William Howard Taft’s “7th inning stretch”, or George Bush’s first pitch in the World Series after the 9/11 tragedy.
Baseball was the first popular team sport in America. It was the first game played in the United States, with the first World Series played in 1903. For comparison, the first Superbowl was played in 1967, first NBA championship played in 1950, and first Stanley Cup in 1927. There has been a baseball season during not one, but two world wars. Baseball is eternal.
So it may be boring. It may be lengthy and tiresome. But it’s baseball. It’s the United States. As the old saying goes, the best way to explain America is: “Baseball, Hot Dogs, and Apple Pie”.